Lyme Disease in Cats

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Lyme disease afflicts dogs much more frequently than cats; cats thankfully rarely become infected or need to be treated like an infected human or dog would. Nonetheless, it’s important to be aware of the signs and know how to protect your other pets and family from Lyme disease.

In This Article

What is Lyme disease in cats?

Lyme disease in cats is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, transmitted through tick bites. There are at least 4 types of ticks that have been proven to transmit Lyme disease, the most common being the deer or black-legged tick. Lyme disease can affect the kidneys, joints, nervous system, and heart.

Signs & symptoms of Lyme disease in cats

While cats can become infected with Lyme disease, it has never been documented in a cat in a natural setting, outside the laboratory. Most infected cats will also not show any noticeable symptoms of Lyme disease. However, because Lyme disease has the potential to be a severe condition and is common among humans and dogs, it is important to know how the disease is transmitted, as well as the signs of infection.

If you notice any of the following symptoms in your cat, consult your veterinarian immediately:

  • Fever

  • Lethargy

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Loss of appetite

  • Stiffness and swelling in the joints

What causes Lyme disease in cats?

Lyme disease is transmitted through tick bites and subsequent feeding on the blood. (The ticks themselves do not cause Lyme disease, but they do transmit the bacteria that causes it.) Currently, there are four known species of ticks that can spread the disease, but the majority of transmissions stem from deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks.

Once a tick attaches itself to the skin, it takes approximately 1 to 2 days for it to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease (although some researchers now believe that transmission can occur more rapidly). This is why prompt removal of ticks found on the body is extremely important.

Fortunately, because cats are such fastidious groomers, they will often remove ticks while cleaning themselves before they are at risk for infection.

Although cats usually do not get sick from Lyme disease, that doesn’t mean they don’t get exposed to it. While they may test positive for the disease, testing positive only proves exposure, which is not the same as illness. Naturally occurring Lyme disease has not ever been documented in cats.

Diagnosing Lyme disease in cats

A Lyme disease diagnosis is based on history, signs of the disease, laboratory tests, and the elimination of other possible diseases/disorders.

Your vet will take a complete medical history and ask about your cat’s outdoor activity (if any), as well as when you first noticed symptoms. A complete physical examination will be carried out along with other testing, including a blood analysis to determine whether your cat has contracted the disease.

Treatment for Lyme disease in cats

Animals that display signs of Lyme disease must be treated with antibiotics. In some cases, antibiotics may not work the first time around, so a second round of treatment is needed.

Limb and joint conditions caused by Lyme disease respond rapidly to treatment in most cases, although these symptoms may not disappear completely in some Lyme-infected animals even after treatment. If left untreated, the infection can result in irreversible tissue damage.

Is there a cure for Lyme disease in cats?

Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics. If the disease remains untreated for several weeks, the recovery process may be prolonged.

Is Lyme disease contagious for humans or other pets?

Both humans and other animals, including dogs, can become infected with Lyme disease. However, they can contract the infection only if they are directly bitten by an infected tick; a cat exposed to Lyme disease cannot directly pass along the infection. Keep in mind, however, that cats may bring unattached, infected ticks into the home, which can then attach themselves to another person or animal to infect them.

What is the cost of treating Lyme disease in cats?

When treating Lyme disease, office visits to the vet and diagnostic blood work should be factored into the overall cost. The cost of a complete physical exam varies by veterinarian, with costs higher in larger cities. Blood work can run upwards of $300. Antibiotics are a separate cost.

Recovery and management of Lyme disease in cats

The recovery process depends on how long the cat has had Lyme disease and whether any tissue has been damaged as a result. Because the disease is not commonly found in cats, there isn’t a lot of information available when it comes to the treatment and recovery of Lyme-damaged tissue in felines.

Preventing Lyme disease in cats

Despite its rarity, it’s important to take preventative measures to protect your cat from becoming infected with Lyme disease, as well as other diseases spread by ticks.

Cats are excellent groomers on their own, but it’s still important to brush your cat carefully and check their coat for ticks, especially if they’ve been outside. To protect yourself when removing a tick, always wear gloves. They can be difficult to kill, so dispose of them in rubbing alcohol to ensure they don’t attach themselves to anyone else in the home.

Tick control medications and products are available (such as sprays and monthly “spot-on” products). Talk to your vet to see if they are appropriate for your cat.

Is there a vaccine for Lyme disease in cats?

While there is a vaccine available for Lyme disease in dogs, there is no preventative vaccine for cats.

Summary of Lyme disease in cats

Lyme disease is not a grave concern for cats, as cats very rarely become infected or need to be treated. However, as Lyme disease can be serious for dogs and humans, it’s still a good idea to be educated so you can protect your family from possible exposure and infection.

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